By Robert Verkaik
Victims of torture seeking sanctuary in Britain are being denied vital healthcare in detention centres and the community, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found.
Hundreds of rape victims, Aids sufferers and traumatised children are missing out on treatment and basic medical help, according to a report looking at widespread discrimination faced by asylum seekers and refugees.
In one detention centre there was no routine access to female GPs, while detained women have complained they have not been able to disclose information about rape and sexual violence.
The report, written by Peter Aspinall and Charles Watters of the University of Kent, warns that the failure to provide adequate healthcare may help to spread disease and exacerbate existing conditions.
It said: "There is evidence of an institutional failure to address health concerns about asylum seekers in detention. More specifically there are concerns about children's health, mental health, treatment for those with HIV and access to female GPs, especially for women who have suffered rape and sexual violence."
The report adds: "A wide range of communicable diseases has been reported among asylum seekers and refugees, and there are anxieties about low rates of vaccination among children and the spread of multi-resistant TB. The risk of contagion, and low level of vaccination, is likely to be partially caused by the barriers asylum seekers face in accessing GPs."
The report also claims that up to a quarter of women in immigration custody have not had legal representation.
Asylum and medical charity workers said the findings confirmed the experience of hundreds of refugees.
A spokeswoman for Medical Justice said: "Sadly and unsurprisingly, findings of these failures accord with what our volunteer doctors have been seeing on the hundreds of occasions they have visited immigration detainees and seen their medical notes."
The head of Border Force, Brodie Clark, said: "The UK Border Agency takes very seriously its duty to care for individuals seeking asylum in the UK, and in particular the need to protect the wellbeing of children.
"Throughout their asylum application, all individuals receive the same free access to NHS services and additional support that is available to the general public. Families found not to need our protection, who refuse to go home, may be detained as a last resort. Throughout their stay within our detention estate, pending their removal, individuals have access to satisfactory healthcare arrangements."
A Department of Health spokesperson added: "All individuals seeking asylum are entitled to free NHS care. Immediately necessary and urgent treatment would never be withheld even if their claim is unsuccessful. It is unacceptable that ethnicity should ever be a barrier to accessing mental health support."
- Download the report (PDF)